It’s a sad realization that a lot of our Dads aren’t with us on Father’s Day. They've passed on. But I think they still need to be remembered. So, with that in mind, I wrote this letter, sort of a dedication, to my late father who I loved so much and miss every day.
This isn’t the kind of letter I can mail to you. There aren’t any mail boxes in Heaven. But that doesn’t matter, its none of that that kind of letter.
So, just what kind of letter is it anyway?
It's a “Thank You” letter written to you on a Father’s Day weekend. Yeah, I know you used to say that Father’s Day was one of those “made up days”, but I still remember how much you liked the various golfing gifts and carpentry tools we gave you. So, I guess you liked it. At least a little.
I am a lot older than the last time we saw each other 33 years ago. I’m 60 which means you’d be 100. Gosh, that’s a lot of time not having played a game of chess, talking politics, or not having watched an episode of the “Rockford Files” or a Redskins game.
Having married later in life, you were an older first-time dad than most. I was also an only child. Something that I think made our relationship rather special. I wonder if I ever told you how much I appreciated all that you did for me. Some of it was what a psychologist might call “active fathering.” The Dad stuff. You know, helping out with my little league team, even becoming an umpire for a while and pushing me, gently, in spite of total lack of athletic aptitude to be a more active kid. I am grateful for that. I am also grateful for your encouraging me to join the debate club, write for our school paper and try out for school plays.
Of course, I appreciated your cheerful willingness to help with my homework, your chats with my teachers and your even handedness when I did something wrong. And most of all, I appreciated the way that when I did something I shouldn’t have, once my punishment was done, you never mentioned it again.
Maybe most of all I want to thank you for your stories. You had more stories and recollections than anyone I have met before or since. You enjoyed your life’s experiences, even the hard parts, and made them, in some respects, as much a part of my life as they were yours.
You also were frank about military service when I wanted to join the Navy Reserves. You warned me, in a memorable heart to heart, that while your stories of the war were fun listening there was a side to your experience that you hadn’t shared. That war was ugly, gruesome and deadly. You made that clear through a few stories I had never heard before. I joined just the same. You were proud of that, but thanks to you, even though I never heard a shot fired in anger, I undertook my service with my eyes wide open. Thank you. I know it wasn’t easy for you to have to recall all that.
There is one other lesson you taught me. Of course, like so many lessons, it was lived, not taught. I wasn’t, after all, raised by you alone. Hardly. My Mom, your wife from the day you got married to the day you died, was a powerful force in my life. She taught me about the gentler side of life. And like you, she taught me kindness and toughness all at the same time. However, most of all, by watching the way the two of you interacted, day in and day out, you taught me the proper way, no exceptions, to treat a lady. It’s a lesson that’s endured and one that I am pleased to say came easily. Thank you.
I know, and it comes with the territory, that I also gave you some grief along the way. That includes my putting up such a fuss about getting my hair cut back in the 1970s. You were right, my bosses and supervisors were far more likely to hire me if I had a good haircut. Also, the same went for shining my shoes and for wearing a tie. You’d laugh if you knew how many times since the that I’ve had to repeat your advice to other young people.
Being a Dad can’t be easy, but you made it look easy. Thanks for listening to me all those years, and I mean, for really listening, thanks for your advice, and thanks for the thoughtful way you put aside your normal protective nature, when the time came, to let me find my own way.
Thanks for everything. It’s been over three decades, and I still miss you.
Which is as I think it should be. Happy Father’s Day.
David Kerr, a former member of the Stafford County School Board, is an instructor in political science at VCU and can be reached at StaffordNews@insidenova.com.